Finding one little word (#OLW) to guide my year is usually a challenge for me. Some years it has been an epic challenge. My life is no less of a mess than previous years (see 2018: Question, 2017: Light, 2016: Cool, and 2015: Simplicity), but recently I have been putting a lot of thought into my Spring Semester teaching plans — in essence putting 2018: Question and 2015: Simplicity into practice — and that process led me very organically to my 2019 #OLW: Connect.
In my teaching, Connect (in light of Simplicity) means that I must Question every assignment and every activity to make sure that it connects to my essential goal for that class. It is not an easy process. I have been teaching a long time and my bag of teaching tricks is very heavy. I love nothing more than rummaging around in there and pulling out old favorites. It is also really hard to give up on assignments and activities I spent a lot of time crafting. But I discovered during this process that once I started it was a lot easier to let go each time I answered the simple question about whether or not this practice supported my goal. And once I started letting go and simplifying my class framework the more joy I found in creating (or remaking) activities and assignments. This is why I love teaching — I love creating classes that will make learning fun. My hope is that this semester the entire process will be both fun and meaningful for all of us and that it will not become a slog for anyone (but especially me).
The more that I thought about this process the more that I came to realize that I need to apply this same process to my life outside the classroom. I have been struggling for months (years?) trying to determine my professional goals and balance those with the challenges of my personal life (I am a sandwich after all) and just recently I realized I need to stop thinking about my professional goals (because in that way lies madness) and just focus on living my best life. I need to question each activity and assignment and determine how it connects to my essential goal, but more than that I need to release the guilt that often comes with those choices in both small and big ways. On the small scale that means that I will not feel guilty that sometimes it takes silly electronic games or fanciful reading/viewing to get me through a tough day. It is not a waste of my time or energy if it helps me escape the less-than-awesome aspects of my life (or world). Writ large this means embracing the professional choices I have made and recognizing that while my career has not been what I envisioned and certainly has not fulfilled its potential, it also brings me tremendous joy and rewards beyond measure while providing for and caring for my family.
I’ve been watching A Million Little Things and there is a scene where Grace Park’s character discovers that her law firm will not meet her terms for a partnership and she smiles and says “I just got my life back.” That is what I need to do. I took my life back when I decided to step off the academic crazy train that might have led me to a tenure track job (or just made me crazy and jobless given the academic job market) and now I need to embrace that choice. The reasons (my health, my sanity, and my family) remain true even if some of the circumstances have shifted and (is it possible?) the academic job market is even more toxic and debilitating (see this article to give you a clue about the physical and emotional toll it takes) which makes it OK if I do not choose to step back on — instead focusing on my writing, my students, and my National Writing Project work. Those things are what will help me live my best life and every professional choice that does not connect to that goal is not worthy of my grief. Instead, I am choosing to smile and celebrate the life I have.
Have you thought about finding your own one little word to guide your future?